What to Expect from Winter in the Northwest
Winters in the Pacific Northwest are notoriously unpredictable. Here's what you can do to be prepared for hiking no matter the weather.
Whether you just moved to the Northwest or you're a native Washingtonian, you may be unsure of where and how to hike in the winter. Snowy conditions might cause roads to close, and the shorter days may require you to find a hike closer to home.
Below are some tips for staying safe while making the most of winter hiking in Washington.
Check conditions: road, trail and weather
One of the most important things to do before setting out on a winter adventure is to check local conditions for the area you want to visit. This will help you gauge both trail and road conditions to determine if it's possible to hike.
For roads conditions, WSDOT has up-to-date mountain pass conditions, including cameras on five well-traveled routes. It is also wise to call ahead to the ranger station where you plan to hike or snowshoe to determine current conditions, especially the local roads where storms or fallen trees can shut off routes unexpectedly.
Before you leave, do a quick check of the weather to make sure conditions will be safe and enjoyable.
Be prepared and stay safe
Being prepared for all sorts of conditions is important year-round, but particularly in winter.
Be sure to bring the 10 essentials with you when you hike or snowshoe, and remember to stay hydrated and well-fed! It's easy to forget that you need water when conditions are cooler and you aren't sweating as much.
Layers are also key for enjoying a winter outing. Bring a waterproof jacket to put on top of warm layers. Throw an extra layer and a pair of socks in to make sure you'll stay dry during the day. We also recommend checking out our winter safety tips for more information on hiking in snow and cold conditions.
Where to find snow-free hikes all winter long
Last year's winter was a stark reminder that snow isn't guaranteed in Washington's mountains, but barring an unusual snowpack, you can expect to find snow on roads and trails at higher elevations for the duration of winter.
Use these tips to find snow-free hikes:
- Snow doesn't generally accumulate near Puget Sound itself, so island and coastal hikes are a great destination when temperatures drop.
- Sections of the Olympic Peninsula, though they can be stormy, are not usually snowed in during winter months either.
- Another option is the lower areas of Eastern Washington where snow is minimal. Try Steamboat Rock or Wallula Gap Overlook.
- You can also find a trail near an urban area in lower elevations that receives less snowfall.
To find hikes in lower elevations, use our Hiking Guide to filter by maximum elevation. If you're not sure what elevation to expect snow, check recent trip reports, and look for hikes with a maximum elevation of 2,000 feet or lower.
If you have a car that can handle some snow, you can also search the hiking guide for snowshoe hikes, search trip reports for where other hikers have been snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, and you can try one of these great snowshoe outings.
Have fun hiking year-round
Winter can be one of the most beautiful times of year in Washington, and just because snow has arrived doesn't mean hiking season needs to end!
Bring some hot chocolate or another warm drink to enjoy when you reach your destination. Staying comfortable and warm will ensure your trip goes well and you return with fun memories. When you're done, remember to write a trip report and tell us all about it!